Congratulations to us! Talk about the art of the deal! Whether we know it or not, in the wake of those presidential Fourth of July festivities on the Washington Mall (“the biggest ever fireworks”), we’re all Saudis now. And here’s the good news: it only cost the
Abortion is about women and women only, right? Their bodies, their pregnancies, their lives. This is a common enough assumption, even though my own experience 36 years ago tells me something different — and even though perhaps no one is playing a greater role, when it comes to abortion, than a man who is the center of everyone’s attention these days. You know, the fellow
Is the United States becoming a plutocracy?
With the manifestly unqualified but immensely rich Donald Trump serving as the nation’s first billionaire president, it’s not hard to draw that conclusion. And there are numerous other signs, as well, that great wealth has become a central factor in American politics.
Although big money has always played an important role in U.S. political campaigns, its influence has been growing over the past decade. According to the Center
By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, July 14, 2019
The latest U.S. House of Representatives version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is beyond global in scope and not the least bit defensive, offended Donald Trump’s desire for limitless power and spending in dozens of ways detailed by the people he employs to write things longer than tweets — and that was before it was amended. And the amendments are shockingly good.
If you’re going to pass a stinker of a bill, piling several
July 12, 2019
Intense fighting and hideous attacks battered Afghans throughout their country last week as negotiators in Qatar weighed the benefits and costs of a peace agreement that might stop the bloodshed.
In Kabul at least 40 people, including one child, were killed in a complex Taliban attack. Dozens of children whose school was partially collapsed by a massive car bomb were injured. Of these, 21 were hospitalized with serious injuries.
New York Times correspondent Mujib Mashal posted (on
World BEYOND War had flooded Congressional offices with the demand for Yes votes.
Here is the text of the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act as passed:
At the end of subtitle G of title X, insert the following: SEC. 10. REPORT ON FINANCIAL COSTS OF OVERSEAS UNITED STATES MILITARY POSTURE AND OPERATIONS. Not later than March 1, 2020, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the congressional defense committees a report on the financial costs and national security benefits of each of the following for fiscal year 2019: (1) Operating, improving, and maintaining overseas military infrastructure at installations included on the enduring location master list, including adjustments that take into account direct or in-kind contributions made by the host nations of such enduring locations. (2) Operating, improving, and maintaining overseas military infrastructure supporting forward-deployed forces at overseas contingency locations, including adjustments that take into account direct or in-kind contributions made by the host nations of such enduring locations. (3) Overseas military operations, including support to contingency operations, rotational deployments, and training exercise.
In this video from Wednesday on C-Span, at 5:21, Rep. Omar makes the case for a need to justify foreign military bases, not just blindly fund unlimited and unknown empire. At 5:25 Rep. Adam Smith makes the case as well. One of their colleagues argues in opposition, but it’s difficult to find coherent meaning in what he says, and it’s hard to imagine what a persuasive case could be for the 210 No votes recorded. What could be the advantage of coating the globe with military bases without bothering to know what each one costs or whether each one plausibly makes you safer or actually endangers you?
The closing of U.S. bases and the removal of U.S. military personnel are critical to the elimination of war.
The United States has more than 150,000 military troops deployed outside the United States on more than 800 bases (some estimates are more than 1000) in 160 countries, and all 7 continents. These bases are the central feature of U.S. foreign policy which is one of coercion and threat of military aggression. The U.S. uses these bases in a tangible way to preposition troops and weaponry in the event they are “needed” at a moment’s notice, and also as a manifestation of U.S. imperialism and global domination — a constant implicit threat. Additionally, because of a history of military aggression, countries with U.S. bases are targets for attack.
There are two principal problems with foreign military bases:
- All these facilities are integral to preparations for war, and as such undermine international peace and security. The bases serve to proliferate weapons, increase violence, and undermine international stability.
- Bases cause social and environmental problems at a local level. Communities living around the bases often experience high levels of rapes committed by foreign soldiers, violent crimes, loss of land or livelihood,
What more did you need to know once Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that a suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, claimed by the Taliban, was Iranian-inspired or plotted, one “in a series of attacks instigated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its surrogates against American and allied interests”? In other words, behind the Sunni extremist insurgents the U.S. has been fighting in Afghanistan since October 2001 lurks the regime of the Shiite fundamentalists in Tehran that many in Washington have been eager to fight since at least the spring of 2003 (when, coincidentally enough, the Bush administration was insisting that Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime had significant ties to al-Qaeda).
It couldn’t have made more sense once you thought about it. I don’t mean Pompeo’s claim itself, which was little short of idiotic, but what lurked behind it. I mean the knowledge that, only a week after the 9/11 attacks, Congress had passed an authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, that allowed the president (and any future president, as it turned out) “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”
In other words, almost 18 years later, as Pompeo knows, if you can link any country or group you’re eager to go to war with to al-Qaeda, no matter how confected the connection, you can promptly claim authorization to do your damnedest to them. How convenient, then, should you be in the mood to make war on Iran, if that country just happens to be responsible for terror attacks linked to the Taliban (which once did harbor al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden). Why, you wouldn’t even need to ask Congress for permission to pursue your war of choice. And keep in mind that, recently, Congress — or a crew of corrupted, degraded Republican senators — simply couldn’t muster the votes or the will to deny President Trump the power to make war on Iran without its approval.
Let me hasten to add that the supposed link to al-Qaeda isn’t the only thing the Trump administration has conjured up to ensure that it will be free to do whatever it pleases when it comes to Iran. It’s found various other inventive ways to justify future military actions there without congressional approval. Pompeo and crew have, in that sense, been clever indeed. As TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, author of the upcoming book All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, points out today, there’s only one word largely missing from their discussions of the increasingly edgy situation in the Persian Gulf, the most obvious word of all. But read him yourself if you want to understand just how, when it comes to Iran and that missing word — to steal a phrase from the late, great Jonathan Schell — the fate of the Earth is at stake. Tom
The Missing Three-Letter Word in the Iran Crisis
Oil’s Enduring Sway in U.S. Policy in the Middle East
By Michael T. Klare
It’s always the oil. While President Trump was hobnobbing with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G-20 summit in Japan, brushing off a recent U.N. report about the prince’s role in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Asia and the Middle East, pleading with foreign leaders to support “Sentinel.” The aim of that administration plan: to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. Both Trump and Pompeo insisted that their efforts were driven by concern over Iranian misbehavior in the region and the need to ensure the safety of maritime commerce. Neither, however, mentioned one inconvenient three-letter word — O-I-L — that lay behind their Iranian maneuvering (as it has impelled every other American incursion in the Middle East since World War II).
Now, it’s true that the United States no longer relies on imported petroleum for a large share of its energy needs. Thanks to the fracking revolution, the country now gets the bulk of its oil — approximately 75% — from domestic sources. (In 2008, that share had been closer to 35%.) Key allies in NATO and rivals like China, however, continue to depend on Middle Eastern oil for a significant proportion of their energy needs. As it happens, the world economy — of which the U.S. is the leading beneficiary (despite President Trump’s self-destructive trade wars) — relies on an uninterrupted flow of oil from the Persian Gulf to keep energy prices low. By continuing to serve as the principal overseer of that flow, Washington enjoys striking geopolitical advantages that its foreign policy elites would no more abandon than they would their country’s nuclear supremacy.
This logic was spelled out clearly by President Barack Obama in a September 2013 address to the U.N. General Assembly in which he declared that “the United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests” in the Middle East. He then pointed out that, while the U.S. was steadily reducing its reliance on imported oil, “the world still depends on the region’s energy supply and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.” Accordingly, he concluded, “We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world.”
To some Americans, that dictum — and its continued embrace by President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo — may seem anachronistic. True, Washington fought wars in the Middle East when the American economy was still deeply vulnerable to any disruption in the flow of imported oil. In 1990, this was the key reason President George H.W. Bush gave for his decision to evict Iraqi troops from Kuwait after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of that land. “Our country now imports nearly half the oil it consumes and could face a major threat to its economic independence,” he told a nationwide TV audience. But talk of oil soon disappeared from his comments about what became Washington’s first (but hardly last) Gulf War after his statement provoked widespread public outrage. (“No Blood for Oil” became a widely used protest sign then.) His son, the second President Bush, never even mentioned that three-letter word when announcing his 2003 invasion of Iraq. Yet, as Obama’s U.N. speech made clear, oil remained, and still remains, at the center of U.S. foreign policy. A quick review of global energy trends helps explain why this has continued to be so.
The World’s Undiminished Reliance on Petroleum
Despite all that’s been said about climate change and oil’s role in causing it — and about the enormous progress being made in bringing solar and wind power online — we remain trapped in a remarkably oil-dependent world. To grasp this reality, all you have to do is read the most recent edition of oil giant BP’s “Statistical Review of World Energy,” published this June. In 2018, according to that report, oil still accounted for by far the largest share of world energy consumption, as it has every year for decades. All told, 33.6% of world energy consumption last year was made up of oil, 27.2% of coal (itself a global disgrace), 23.9% of natural gas, 6.8% of hydro-electricity, 4.4% of nuclear power, and a mere 4% of renewables.
Most energy analysts believe that the global reliance on petroleum as a share of world energy use will decline in the coming decades, as more governments impose restrictions on carbon emissions and as consumers, especially in the developed world, switch from oil-powered to electric vehicles. But such declines are unlikely to prevail in every region of the globe and total oil consumption may not even decline. According to projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its “New Policies Scenario” (which assumes significant but not drastic government efforts to curb carbon emissions globally), Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are likely to experience a substantially increased demand for petroleum in the years to come, which, grimly enough, means global oil consumption will continue to rise.
Concluding that the increased demand for oil in Asia, in particular, will outweigh reduced demand elsewhere, the IEA calculated in its 2017 World Energy Outlook that oil will remain the world’s dominant source of energy in 2040, accounting for an estimated 27.5% of total global energy consumption. That will indeed be a smaller share than in 2018, but because global energy consumption as a whole is expected to grow substantially during those decades, net oil production could still rise — from an estimated 100 million barrels a day in 2018 to about 105 million barrels in 2040.
Of course, no one, including the IEA’s experts, can be sure how future extreme manifestations of global warming like the severe heat waves recently tormenting Europe and South Asia could change such projections. It’s possible that growing public outrage could lead to far tougher restrictions on carbon emissions between now and 2040. Unexpected developments in the field of alternative energy production could also play a role in changing those projections. In other words, oil’s continuing dominance could still be curbed in ways that are now unpredictable.
In the meantime, from a geopolitical perspective, a profound shift is taking place in the worldwide demand for petroleum. In 2000, according to the IEA, older industrialized nations — most of them members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — accounted for about two-thirds of global oil consumption; only about a third went to countries in the developing world. By 2040, the IEA’s experts believe that ratio will be reversed, with the OECD consuming about one-third of the world’s oil and non-OECD nations the rest. More dramatic yet is the growing centrality of the Asia-Pacific region to the global flow of petroleum. In 2000, that region accounted for only 28% of world consumption; in 2040, its share is expected to stand at 44%, thanks to the growth of China, India, and other Asian countries, whose newly affluent consumers are already buying cars, trucks, motorcycles, and other oil-powered products.
Where will Asia get its oil? Among energy experts, there is little doubt on this matter. Lacking significant reserves of their own, the major Asian consumers will turn to the one place with sufficient capacity to satisfy their rising needs: the Persian Gulf. According to BP, in 2018, Japan already obtained 87% of its oil imports from the Middle East, India 64%, and China 44%. Most analysts assume these percentages will only grow in the years to come, as production in other areas declines.
This will, in turn, lend even greater strategic importance to the Persian Gulf region, which now possesses more than 60% of the world’s untapped petroleum reserves, and to the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow passageway through which approximately one-third of the world’s seaborne oil passes daily. Bordered by Iran, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, the Strait is perhaps the most significant — and contested — geostrategic location on the planet today.
Controlling the Spigot
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the same year that militant Shiite fundamentalists overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran, U.S. policymakers concluded that America’s access to Gulf oil supplies was at risk and a U.S. military presence was needed to guarantee such access. As President Jimmy Carter would say in his State of the Union Address on January 23, 1980,
“The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance: It contains more than two thirds of the world’s exportable oil… The Soviet effort to dominate Afghanistan has brought Soviet military forces to within 300 miles of the Indian Ocean and close to the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway through which most of the world’s oil must flow… Let our position be absolutely clear: an attempt
In the year 2000, the CIA gave Iran (slightly and obviously flawed) blueprints for a key component of a nuclear weapon. In 2006 James Risen wrote about this “operation” in his book State of War. In 2015, the United States prosecuted a former CIA agent, Jeffrey Sterling, for supposedly having leaked the story to Risen. In the course of the prosecution, the CIA made public a partially redacted cable that showed that immediately after bestowing its gift on Iran, the CIA had begun efforts to do the same for Iraq. Now in 2019, Sterling is publishing his own book, Unwanted Spy: The Persecution of an American Whistleblower.
I can only make sense of one reason why the CIA hands out blueprints for nuclear bombs (and in the case of Iran planned to deliver actual parts as well). Both Risen and Sterling claim that the goal was to slow down Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Yet we now know that the CIA had no solid knowledge that Iran had any nuclear weapons program, or if it had one how advanced it was. We know that the CIA has been involved in promoting the false belief that Iran is a nuclear threat since the early 1990s. But even assuming that the CIA believed Iran to have a nuclear weapons program in 2000 (which the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate would later claim had been ended in 2003), we have not been offered any explanation of how providing flawed blueprints could have been imagined to slow such a program down. If the idea is supposed to be that Iran or Iraq would simply waste time building the wrong thing, we run up against two problems. First, they would likely waste vastly more time if working without plans, as compared to working with flawed ones. Second, the flaws in the plans given to Iran were obvious and apparent.
When the former-Russian assigned to deliver the blueprints to the Iranian government immediately spotted the flaws in them, the CIA told him not to worry. But they didn’t tell him that the flawed plans would somehow slow down an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Instead they told him that the flawed plans would somehow reveal to the CIA how far along Iran’s program was. But how that would happen has never been explained either. And it conflicts with something else they told him, namely that they already knew how far along Iran was and that Iran already had the nuclear knowledge that they were providing. My point is not that these assertions were true but that the slow-them-down rationale was not attempted.
One never wants to underestimate incompetence. The CIA knew next to nothing about Iran, and by Sterling’s account was not seriously trying to learn. By Risen’s account, around 2004 the CIA accidentally revealed to the Iranian government the identities of all of its agents in Iran. But incompetence does not seem to explain a consciously thought-out effort to distribute nuke plans to designated enemies. What does seem to explain it better is the desire to point to the possession of those plans, or of the product of those plans, as evidence of a hostile threat of “weapons of mass destruction,” which, as we all know, is an acceptable excuse for a war.
That we are not entitled to find out, even 20 years later, whether giving nuke plans to Iran was incompetence or malevolence, or to ask Bill Clinton or George W. Bush why they approved of it, is itself a problem that goes beyond incompetence and into the realm of anti-democratic tyrannical governance by secret agencies.
We have no possible way of knowing a complete list of countries the U.S. government has handed nuclear weapons plans to. Trump is now giving nuclear weapons secrets to Saudi Arabia in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty, his oath of office, and common sense — though we must, of course, defer to the wisdom of Nancy Pelosi and recognize that nothing Trump does could possibly be impeachable. The silver lining is that whistleblowers on giving nukes to the Saudis have apparently been listened to by certain members of Congress who have gone public with the information. Whether the difference is the individuals, the committees, the sides of Capitol Hill, the party in the majority, the party in the White House, the involvement of the CIA, the general culture, or the nation being given the keys to the apocalypse, the fact is that when Jeffrey Sterling went to Congress to reveal the giving of nukes to Iran, Congress Members either ignored him, suggested that he move to Canada, or — with horrible timing — died before doing anything.
Sterling’s new book, Unwanted Spy, includes very little about Operation Merlin, the plot to give nukes to Iran. The book is well worth reading for other reasons. But Sterling does tell us on page 2 that he did not leak the story to James Risen or anyone else. Later in the book he tells us that he took the story to Congressional committee staff with the proper clearance and oversight responsibilities.
In a world that was even slightly sane Sterling’s assertion that he did not leak the story to Risen might risk endangering others. Sterling has already been to prison for what I consider an admirable act of public service but the U.S. government considers the crime of “espionage.” But prosecutions for crimes in our culture are almost never desired once someone has been convicted, even if it was the wrong someone. Sterling has asserted his innocence consistently from day one. Sterling later in the book promotes the idea that one of the Congressional staff members he spoke to may have leaked the story to Risen (so he’s clearly not worried about any new prosecutions). And if you read through Sterling’s whole book, the possibility arises in your mind that the purpose of the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling may have been as much about targeting Sterling over other matters as it was about pinning the blame on someone for Risen’s story.
Of course, assuming that it is true that Sterling was not Risen’s source, someone else was, someone who allowed Sterling to go to prison in his or her place. And, of course, Risen kept silent as well. Perhaps his promise of confidentiality to his source justified that silence. Perhaps all parties involved had little reason to believe they could help Sterling effectively, even if they tried, given the fact that he was targeted and convicted in the absence of any evidence he committed the whistleblowing.
Sterling’s book takes us from his childhood up through his trial. It provides an insightful account of how a boy and young man dealt with growing up black in the United States, and growing up with a troubled family and more than his share of serious hardship. From early on, Sterling writes that he had a deep desire to know what his country thought of him. With the guilty verdicts at his trial, he believes he’s finally been given the ugly answer.
Whether it would have helped him or not, I do not know, but I would have tried offering the advice, on the chance that it might help, that one ought not to care too much what an imaginary and fictional entity thinks of one. A country has no thoughts. It’s not a person. What do people think of you? Even that question can be given too much weight, but Sterling seems capable early on of keeping it in check. I wish he could have done the same with the less useful question of what his country thought of him.
I even wish he had not tried to “serve” his country by going to work for a secret agency which, through the course of his account, and every other account I’ve read, is never recorded as having done anything useful, much less enough good to outweigh the harm.
I’m not criticizing Sterling for joining the CIA. He was up against racist prejudice in trying to find satisfying employment. The CIA was advertising itself as diverse and enlightened, and as a way to see the world, in addition to promoting the militaristic nationalism in which not just Sterling but darn near every U.S. child believes. When Sterling, who had grown up in a small town in Missouri, took the job at the CIA, he moved to my hometown in Northern Virginia. He found the locale in some ways more advanced, and more welcoming of his inter-racial marriage. I’m sorry Sterling didn’t grow up there and that I didn’t know him; he’s within a couple of years of my age.
But where Sterling ran up against racism most severely was not in Missouri, but in Northern Virginia within the bureaucracy of the CIA. He found there a rightwing culture that had not accepted the idea of racial equality, and as far as we know still hasn’t. His career was stymied by supervisors who blocked his way and were none too subtle about the reasons why. He was told that he couldn’t do certain work in Europe because he’d stand out too much being black. He’d been to Africa and seen all-white CIA offices whose members might as well have worn signs around their necks. When he complained he was informed that by joining the CIA he had given up his civil rights.
Sterling didn’t accept that. He went through all available channels to overcome discrimination. And that made him a target for retribution. The retribution was overwhelming, and Sterling suffered. He attempted suicide. And the worst was yet to come.
Yet Jeffrey Sterling persevered remarkably. He remade himself. He faced disaster head-on. One thing that he writes gave him a major boost was the supportive letters that people mailed him while he was in prison. It’s worth remembering how often people who’ve been to prison say this. Next time you sit down to write to a Congress Member or a friend or a relative, maybe consider writing to a prisoner as well.
By “the Obama wars” I don’t mean some overgrown infants on television screaming racist insults or pretending that opposing racism requires cheering for Obama.
I mean: the widespread indiscriminate murder of human beings with missiles — many of them from robot airplanes — let loose to threaten any non-white country on earth by Obama and expanded by Trump. I mean the catastrophic destruction of Libya — still continued by Trump. I mean the war on Afghanistan, the vast bulk of which was overseen by Obama, though Bush and Trump have had minor roles. I mean the assault on Yemen, begun by Obama and escalated by Trump. I mean the war on Iraq and Syria escalated first by Obama and then by Trump (following the de-escalation locked in place by Bush though Obama fought it tooth-and-nail).
I mean the conflict with Iran, heightened by Obama and then dramatically again by Trump. I mean the expansion of conflict-producing troops and bases across Africa and Asia. I mean the creation of the new cold war with Russia. I mean the build up in nuclear weapons and the delusional rhetoric about “usable” nuclear weapons. I mean the support for Israel’s wars on Palestinians. I mean the coups in Ukraine and Honduras. I mean the threats to Venezuela. I mean the normalization of fantastical excuses for the gravest crimes. I mean the practice of campaigning on ending wars, never ending any of them, and never having anyone really care. I mean the constant shattering of past records in military spending.
Obama’s legacy, despite all sorts of variations, many of them superficial, and despite its role in defeating Hillary Clinton at the ballot box, has largely been maintained, advanced, and imitated by bipartisan consensus and by Donald Trump.
If you want to review what Obama did in that quirky little area of his job to which some 60% of federal discretionary spending is devoted, and which puts us all at risk of nuclear disaster, pick up a copy of Jeremy Kuzmarov’s book Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State. Kuzmarov places Obama in historical context and outlines his parallels with Woodrow Wilson, another extreme militarist generally understood as a peace visionary. Kuzmarov reviews — and adds information that many of us probably never knew to — the story of Obama’s rise to power and the story of all of his many wars.
We tend to forget that right up through the presidency of George W. Bush wars were thought of as temporary things that had endings. Now they’re hardly thought of at all, but they’re understood to be permanent. And they’re thought of in partisan terms. We sometimes forget that candidate Obama, like candidate Trump, promised a larger military. Candidate Obama promised a larger war on Afghanistan. And when it came time for Obama’s re-election to a second term, he reached out to the New York Times and asked that paper to write an article about how good he was at killing people, about how he carefully studied a list of men, women, and children and picked out the ones in whose name he would send missiles into clusters of unidentified victims. Obama’s claim, in his own words, was “I’m really good at killing people.” Nobody who liked Obama and didn’t like murder allowed themselves to become aware of this aspect of Obama’s re-election campaign; and they never will become aware of it.
The reason it matters is that over 20 Democrats are now campaigning for president, some of whom are promoting the same sort of militarism, some of whom are opposing it to some degree, and some of whom have revealed little or nothing about their positions on such matters. One of them, Joe Biden, was part of Obama’s wars. Biden is the guy who claimed of the mass-slaughter of people in Libya “We didn’t lose a single life.” Kamala Harris is the woman who will never ever question whether by “life” he meant “non-African life.” She’s too busy worrying that peace might break out in Korea. The stupidity of tokenism will plague us until we at least have the decency to regret having fallen for it before. The stupidity of militarism will plague us until we stop glorifying and excusing it and start supporting efforts to create peace.
Donald E. McInnis is the author of She’s So Cold: Murder, Accusations, and the System that Devastated a Family. He is a California criminal defense attorney, and he represented one of the three accused boys, Aaron Houser, in the Stephanie Crowe murder case. Over the span of his 40-year legal career, Mr. McInnis has worked alternately for the prosecution and for the defense, having served as a deputy district attorney for two California counties and as a deputy public defender for one California county during his early professional years. His website is https://donaldmcinnis.com
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